The Patient: An Allegory

The Patient: An Allegory


Leonard Zwelling

Alan Strauss (Steve Carell) is a Jewish psychotherapist who has just lost his wife, a guitar-playing, synagogue cantor, to breast cancer. One of his patients, Sam (Domhnall Gleeson), is a seral killer who wants to stop murdering people. To facilitate the therapy, Sam kidnaps Alan and chains him to the floor in a basement bedroom of Sam’s mother’s house. The therapy intensifies.

This series on Hulu appears to be a psychological thriller and I guess it is, but that’s not what this is about. Intermittently, then more rapidly, Alan has flashbacks to the Jewish aspects of his life including his son’s conversion to Orthodoxy and his son’s associated spurning of his family, his wife’s leading songs as she plays the guitar in synagogue, but is walked out on when she does so at her son’s Orthodox wedding, and finally we get glimpses into Alan’s imaginings of the concentration camps and the allegory becomes clear.

Sam represents the Nazis and Alan European Jewry. Alan’s mother, upstairs, is the rest of Europe ignoring what is happening on its doorstep. But The Patient is also an allegory for any captured, intellectual group under the heel of totalitarian oppression with a removed, powerful force ignoring what is going on next door. Alan is the abused wife, the battered child, the oppressed worker, the Russian people. Alan is the faculty of an academic center under the thumb of an autocratic president and see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil board. The Patient is MD Anderson in a microcosm.

As of this writing, I don’t know how this mini-series ends. Even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you because revealing the plot of this mini-series is not the purpose of this blog.

I believe that most of the faculty at MD Anderson have been cowed into silence fearing for their high salaries and relatively secure retirement accounts with no interest in rocking a boat with Captain Bligh at the helm. Unless and until the Faculty Senate can mobilize the rank-and-file faculty to say “enough!” this will continue. More of the faculty will be disappeared under the guise of professionalism and Peter Pisters will continue to collect national awards for excellence based on his ability to manipulate the view of the world of what is really happening at MD Anderson and doing so with a great deal more success than his predecessor.

I know, I know, how can I equate the leadership of a cancer center with one of the greatest atrocities in human history? Because the dynamic is the same and that’s the point of an allegory. The subjugation of one human being by another as a third watches from above is nothing new. After all, that’s how slavery flourished and how evil always does.

“The only thing necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.”

This is usually attributed to Edmund Burke who probably never said it, but the truth of the phrase remains. Meeting evil with complacency is a formula for the perpetuation of oppression.

It is up to the faculty to hold the current MD Anderson administration accountable for setting Human Resources and the legal team free to manhandle faculty under the guise of professionalism—an attribute I am unsure the leadership itself could rise to.

You have all lost colleagues to this evil. Great physicians have been fired for nonsense accusations tinged with wokeism, ageism, sexism, and all forms of prejudice hidden under the cloak of a lack of professionalism. You will continue to lose colleagues as you cringe in fear until you stop this nonsense. Next stop, Austin?

2 thoughts on “The Patient: An Allegory”

  1. The experience of both my wife and I, a psychiatrist and a surgeon, respectively
    , is that most academics with excellent salaries and secure jobs will tolerate corrupt leadership. They do not want to risk their security.
    Both of us stood up to “unrighteousness” in two different institutions and ended up being sidelined. Eventually the self-serving physician leaders were canned, but we felt the pain of courage personally.
    It will take only a few at MD Anderson to stand up for a more just institution, but they must be ready to sacrifice some personal money and job security.
    It’s not an easy choice or challenge to leadership, but it carries a cost for doing what is “right” for the common good of both patients and also the institution. Carpe diem!
    We are both at peace with what we challenged and what we lost. Press on!

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